Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Self described ‘young upstarts’ Rosa Robson and Matilda Wnek provide good hour of comedy that could be genuinely great if they allowed themselves to throw in more smarts with their silliness.
Sketch comedy, for this reviewer at least, falls broadly into three groups. There are the extremes of the supremely funny and original ‘how did they think of that’ successes against the annoyance of the ‘why did they bother’ failures. And then there’s the smart and witty sketch comedy that promises a great deal, but haven’t quite vaulted into the realm of ‘unmissable’ just yet.
It’s this last (or, if we’re being accurate, middle) section that Beard represent. Very likeable, smart and funny, the pair rattle through a rapid fire selection of sketches with verve and energy. The ratio of hits to misses is very high, with only a couple of weak jokes in the hour – and even those, you can argue, are down to personal taste.
Something else that’s numerous in this show, however, is the sheer volume of sketches that rely on a ‘pull back and reveal’ end to the joke – that is, having carefully set up a situation or relationship, only for it to be revealed to be entirely untrue for the sake of a quick punchline at the end of the sketch. It’s a good thing, then, that a significant number of these punchlines are actually very good jokes, some of them even managing to play on audience expectation of repetition, such as the character of an irresponsible mother.
Some of it feels very much like the result of workshop improv (which it may well be) which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: although it’s true that there is the afore-mentioned over reliance on a certain type of punchline, this is tempered, like much of the better sketch comedy around at the moment, that the comedy is coming from the characters and situations, rather than whatever the gag is. What’s unexpectedly refreshing is that the pair don’t play a great deal of stock in their differing personalities and appearances: aside from one gag at the top of the show where they play ‘themselves’, the bulk of the hour is them playing tightly constructed, believable characters. Believable characters are depressingly rare in sketch comedy.
That said, there’s a fair amount of physical comedy being untapped here. We get a promise of it: the pair play men, dogs, pictures in frames, and arcade games., managing to set up entire environments through voice and body alone (even more of a challenge when you consider that most of the time, at least, it’ll be down to one actor alone to provide the landscape, and the other to react to it) and you get the impression that with a more demanding script (and a more demanding director) the pair could really let rip, providing a lot of comedy by ensuring big props, sound FX, and locations are represented physically by the actors themselves, creating a genuinely singular USP. They’re almost there already, in scenes such as the one where one actor plays a mother and her own, multiple offspring, all chattering with each other.
We talk a lot in sketch comedy about those shows that are quick fire – that rattle through one scene in a matter of minutes before pole vaulting to the next – and that’s certainly true here, although it would be good to see the girls taking a breath occasionally, and expanding a sketch into a full story. One sketch, involving an increasing level of misunderstandings via Morse code and torches, benefits from having a longer running time, and is one of their most successful (it’s clear they know it too, since it serves as their closer). Beard (forgive us) doesn’t need a trim – they’d be better off having the chance to occasionally stretch their muscles. They’re clearly sharp and intelligent performers, and it would be good to see them demand more from their audiences. For now though, it’s a pleasurable hour spent with two charming performers, and the end result is rather like leafing through a comic book filled with truly funny and engaging characters.